Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 75)? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation relating hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they collected data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a considerable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to several studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.